You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

Sorry about the hiatus.  Traveling for work and getting sick don’t do much for getting posting done.

113. Sherlock Holmes

Confession: I actually started this list with three 2009 movies to go,  since I was fairly confidant I wouldn’t loathe any of them.  I thought this one was the safest, but geez, there’s a chance I’m ranking it too high.  I didn’t like Snatch, so maybe I just don’t get Guy Ritchie, but this film had countless problems.  I’d already accepted that they turned Holmes into an action hero.  Fine, whatever.  But the movie felt like someone had read The Da Vinci Code, heard it was the next big thing, and morphed an existing Holmes script into something more Dan Brown-esque.  And it didn’t work at all.  Lots of bells and whistles, but no substance at all.  The character development was shockingly minimal.  I have no idea why Rachael McAdams’s character was in the movie.  I have no idea why Guy Ritchie insists on cramming in bare-knuckle fistfights.  And I have no idea why this movie is getting a sequel.

112. Easy Virtue

I touched on the film briefly, and I’ll stand by what I said.  Any period piece featuring Kristin Scott Thomas and this year’s Oscar nominee Colin Firth shouldn’t require much else to be good.  I’m not the world’s biggest Jessica Biel fan, but she was certainly an adequate choice for the role.  The problem was with the setup.  If events had played out like in a Meet The Parents, then the film would have been fine, but a little cliche.  Instead, well, the order in which things happened didn’t really make much sense.  And I suppose I’m never really going to be able to see the humor in accidentally sitting on a doggie.

111. Gamer

I was pretty psyched for this movie.  I mean, who wouldn’t be excited for an update of The Running Man?  And by the guys who did Crank!  But while random insanity worked for that movie, it kinda failed here.  The plot was all over the place.  I think Kyra Sedgwick’s role probably could have been eliminated without losing anything.  Michael C. Hall was an inspired casting choice.  But as Gavin points out, why does Gerard Butler headline so many movies?  I’ve got nothing against the guy, I’m just not sure he carries this movie the way a huge action star could.

110. Watchmen

Remember when this was going to be the hugest thing of last year?  You know, I read the graphic novel before seeing the movie, and frankly, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about.  The film did a pretty good job in terms of how it handled the adaptation.  The cast is pretty solid all around.  And that opening montage, well, I think Brian (who has a bizarre obsession with montages)  is still drooling over it.  But I think the film showed that the graphic novel was lacking a really interesting story.  And can we all take a second to remember the delightfully ridiculous sex scene set to “Hallelujah”?

109. Julia

I devoted an entire post to this film, so read up, if you are curious.  This year happened to be very strong for Best Actress nominees, but I think Tilda Swinton deserved a little more discussion, even if I ultimately didn’t think she was one of the year’s five best.  The film isn’t ever aggressively bad, but it feels longer than it is, and does tend to get bogged down at times.  Also, Julia the character isn’t exactly sympathetic, which can make the film a little tough to watch, at times.  As always, if you want to read more about the film, check out what Roger Ebert has to say (he liked the movie considerably more than I did).

108. The Ugly Truth

The type of movie people who hate romantic comedies point to.  Sure, the entire plot of the film is immediately apparent, but I don’t really think it is fair to call that a fault of the movie.  No, the problems are that the script isn’t clever and the characters are really annoying.  But Shirley from Community is in a few scenes, as is the boss from Justified, so that’s something.  And Katherine Heigl isn’t unattractive, so that’s something.  Gerard Butler shows up again, and again, I admire his versatility, I’m just surprised at the roles in which he is cast.  The ending, which can be key for a movie like this, isn’t very good.

107. The Mark Pease Experience

This film didn’t make much of a splash, which is maybe a little surprising considering it stars Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller and this year’s Supporting Actress nominee Anna Kendrick.  And also because of the success of Glee.  Oh, huh, I just saw that it was directed and co-written by That Guy Todd Luiso.  Anyway, I probably didn’t like this film that much because I don’t really get Schwartzman, so if you like him you’ll probably enjoy the movie more than I did.  He stars as a guy who hasn’t quite moved on from high school, where almost a decade ago he was a star singer in the drama club.  Which is run by Ben Stiller.  Both of whom have taken an interest in high schooler Anna Kendrick.  And in a completely unrelated note, I recommended this movie to Brian.  I referenced Glee above, but that’s not entirely fair.  This movie isn’t anywhere near as flamboyant and focuses more on a Schwartzman’s a cappella group and the school’s musical.

106. A Single Man

You can check out everything the Grouches have had to say on Colin Firth’s Oscar-nominated performance here.  I believe we all agreed the movie was slow and generally subpar.  Don’t let the trailer fool you, there’s not really much suspense here.  I never really understood the push for Julianne Moore for supporting actress, to be honest.  She was decent in the one scene she was in, but nothing amazing.  I think it says a lot about Colin Firth that he got a nomination for a film that wasn’t particularly interesting.  Which I think is on the head of writer/director/fashion designer Tom Ford.  Matthew Goode shows up for the second time this post.  I was excited that Lee Pace and Ginnifer Goodwin were in this movie, but neither one had a particularly big role.

105. Death In Love

I’m man enough to admit that the only reason this movie made its way to my Netflix queue is that Morena Baccarin (Inara from Firefly) went topless.  Oddly, she’s in the first scene and gone the rest of the movie.  I don’t really know how to describe Death In Love.  It is really two different stories.  That of Jacqueline Bisset, which is part Holocaust movie (though with a very odd angle) and part, um, serial killer, I guess.  And then there’s Josh Lucas’s story, which is part ladies’ man learning to change his ways and part a con man story.  Really, the movie is all over the place, which gets distracting.  It was written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who also co-wrote Prince of Persia.

104. The Open Road

A baseball road trip movie with this year’s Oscar winner Jeff Bridges?  Plus, Justin Timberlake, who acquits himself well enough.  And Kate Mara, who, for reasons beyond me, has yet to realize I’m the man of her dreams.  If you missed this one, Bridges plays a famous baseball player, Timberlake is his estranged son who journeys with friend Mara because his mom is sick in the hospital and asked him to bring Bridges back to see her.  The film struggles to set a consistent tone or really establish any sense of purpose.  At times it avoids the cliches of a reuniting road trip by replacing them with nothing at all.

Coming up next time: another baseball movie, a couple of failed Oscar contenders, and another movie where I disagree with Roger Ebert.

As the Grouch On the Scene at this year’s Film Fest DC, I didn’t only take in fun genre flicks that, with a language change to English, could pass for good multiplex fare. I also got to see some more artistic films. Yes, films that take their time. Films that take art seriously. Films that are about something.

In other words, films that the other Grouches would have hated.

Actually, I only really liked one of the following four anyway.

Medal of Honor (Medalia de onoare), Romania

The catalog description read like it was written just for me. Romanian New Wave? Yes! The other films I’ve seen in this movement have been fascinating. A mid-90s setting as the country shifts to capitalism? Goodness, yes! A plot about a man who receives a medal of honor for actions he can’t remember? A thousand times yes! Who wouldn’t be interested in a film about the subjective nature of history and the impermanent, unreliable character of memory?

Those themes didn’t play out quite as I hoped. For a better example – also Romanian – check out 12:08 East of Bucharest. I’d say Medal of Honor is more about an old man confused in a new world.

Ion I. Ion is in his 70s, living in a cramped apartment with a wife who barely speaks to him. He has rambling, frustrating conversations consisting mostly of complaints with anyone he crosses. His son is a doctor in Canada and won’t speak to him after his father turned him in for trying to escape Romania before Ceausescu fell. It was for his own good, he said.

When Ion receives notice that he will be awarded a medal for World War II bravery, he doesn’t know why. He served, but he doesn’t remember doing anything particular brave. But the medal means a lot to him and gives him some prestige with his cohorts. It even gives him an in to get his son to speak to him. So as time goes on he convinces himself of his own acts of bravery. After all, the government gave him a medal and it can’t be wrong, right?

This film is Ion, a man befuddled by the new world order. The plot unfolds slowly and without many surprises. It’s the deep treatment of Ion that allows the film to succeed, though two hours with this stubborn man is plenty for a filmgoer. He’s the guy in your office who you avoid because you know he’ll pull you into a conversation about himself for twenty minutes.

Other Romanian New Wave films I’ve seen have had distinctive visual styles. Medal of Honor doesn’t adhere to that style as much and is filmed more conventionally, though the characteristic long shots still appear from time to time.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Jared’s dislike for slow films pushes him to the top as Adam would at least see the bureaucratic absurdities in the film as reinforcing his goofy libertarian world view.

Louise-Michel, France

This is one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve ever seen. I hated it. You should not see it and I will tell you everything that happens so you can get a taste of the ridiculousness of it.

Louise is a hulking woman working in a provincial French garment factory staffed with other women. She’s keeping her head low after doing time for blowing off a banker’s head with a shotgun (graphically portrayed). The women arrive at work one day to find the factory completely empty. Their union gives them a severance and they pool their money for their next venture. Why not hire an assassin to kill the man who shut down the factory, suggests Louise. And so that’s what they decide.

Louise meets Michel, a frumpy security guard who lives in a trailer park. He takes the job but soon realizes he’s unable to kill. The solution? Hire his terminally ill cousin to walk into a party, shoot the factory boss, and then shoot herself. She gets to end her misery and Michel gets the money. Win-win! She pulls off the job.

But it turns out the now-dead boss wasn’t the real boss as the factory was part of a large multinational. So it’s time to pack up another terminally-ill acquaintance of Michel’s, this one wheelchair-bound, and road trip to Brussels. But before the man can wheel his bomb into the boardroom he gets struck and killed by a bus. No matter since the real boss is in the English Channel tax haven of Jersey anyway.

At about this point we find out that Louise is actually a man posing as a woman to land a job after his prison stint. And Michel is actually a woman living as a man. Why the gender switcharoo? I have no earthly idea. It has nothing to do with the rest of the film and is just an element of pure anarchy, fitting since Louise-Michel was actually a historical anarchist. Good thing they found each other, too, because a bickering relationship has given way to affection. Aw!

After stowing away to Jersey, the pair find the company executive. They break into his compound and slaughter everyone on site: the boss, security personnel, servants, babies. Then they go to jail where, nine months later, Michel has their baby. The factory ladies are happy to hear the joyous news and begin their plot to take out the real owners: a California pension fund. The end.

Mind boggling.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Adam, since at least Brian and Jared would relish in the absurdity.

Alamar, Mexico

We (ahem, Jared) often give films crap because “nothing happens.” Alamar takes this concept to a whole new level. I met my girlfriend after the film and she asked how it was. “Nothing happened,” I said.

“But the catalog actually says that nothing happens,” she replied.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “Really nothing happens. At all. Nothing.”

Alamar follows three generations of men living in a stilt house over the sea in Quintana Roo. But this isn’t Cancun. It’s 73 minutes of the three of them fishing and snorkeling and hanging out in the hut. Skills are passed along from older to younger generations before the young grandson returns to his Italian mother in Rome.

Do you remember the short film segments on Sesame Street that were nothing but footage of kids playing? Like five minutes of just kids finger painting and nothing else? That’s what this reminded me of. There’s no drama, no conflict. Just footage of teaching the grandson how to fish, making bird friends, and feeding crocodiles. I think it’s meant to be a story about passing along tradition in a changing world and of simple father-son bonds even as fate would pull them apart. But these themes are so understated as to be almost nonexistent.

The setting is very pretty and I got by for most of it thinking that it would be nice to be hanging out in a hammock on the world’s second largest barrier reef. But mostly I was bored to death.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: This film is basically the antithesis to Jared. The anti-Jared. If Jared were to watch this film I think they’d cancel each other out and both would cease to exist.

Lourdes, France

Lourdes is a Pyrenees French town known for several visions of the Virgin Mary in the mid-19th century. Now it hosts thousands of ailing pilgrims per year who pray, visit holy sites, and bathe in holy water in hopes of receiving a miracle. The film follows one quadriplegic on a group pilgrimage. She interacts with the other pilgrims and the helpers while visiting all the important Lourdes sites. The first part of the film lets us into this world full of pain, frustration, faith, and desperation. I really dug this part.

When a miracle seems to happen in the group, the reaction is muted. Everyone’s happy someone received their miracle, but they question: Why her? And why not me? What did she do that I didn’t? I’m more devout. She didn’t seem to pray as hard as me at the shrine.

It’s a beauty pageant where the infirm are contestants and God is the sole judge. The losers smile and hug the victor while being upset it wasn’t them. Then there’s the remorse for the jealousy.

It was this exploration of the conflicting emotion and questioning of faith that I looked forward to most going in. Unfortunately it didn’t work too well for me as it didn’t seem to dig deeper than to confirm that there are indeed conflicting emotions. Most of it is way too underplayed; the periphery characters feel most of this conflict while we watch our blank-slate protagonist. And when it strays from the understatement it swings wildly to shrill melodrama. It’s a shame too because for about a third of the film I was entirely on board.

Grouch who’d hate it the most: Adam due to his hatred of all things French.

Actually, this post should read “Grouch” because I was the only one to take advantage of Film Fest DC a few weeks back. This year’s fest didn’t have the best record for me (four good ones out of seven) but I had a very good time poring over the schedule, running to screenings, and taking in some films a little bit outside of the mainstream.

Film Fest DC concentrates on international film rather than domestic indies. One interesting result of bringing the best of world cinema to the nation’s capital is that a good portion of the selections are genre pictures. Straight up mainstream fare that just happen to have subtitles like Hungarian musicals, Chinese spy thrillers, and Spanish crime dramas. Film festival attendees can be a snooty bunch and as they laughed and gasped like they were at the multiplex on a Friday night, I wondered how many of these people would have not deigned to see these films if they came from Hollywood.

Three of the films I saw I’d qualify as fairly mainstream fare, if not true genre flicks. They’d do fine as US productions – one has an American remake already in the works – and perhaps even garner Grouches attention come award time.

The House of Branching Love (Haarautuvan rakkauden talo), Finland

My favorite of the fest. It’s a madcap domestic comedy where all the humor is dialed up to the absurd. Tuula and Juhani are a late-30s married couple whose marriage is ending. But neither wants to move out so both decide to stay in the house, she (Tuula) upstairs and he (Juhani) in the basement. They set some ground rules, including no hook-ups, a rule he promptly breaks. You can perhaps get a sense of the film’s sense of humor when I say her discovery of his late night visitor involves setting the bushes on fire.

She starts seeing a young hunk who parks his seaplane in the lake behind their house, so Juhani decides to get even by hiring a prostitute to pose as his girlfriend. He gets this prostitute by talking to his criminal brother, who in turn sees this as an opportunity to hide his girlfriend at his brother’s place while her handlers look for her and the money they think she stole. Her handlers’ boss, in turn, is actually Tuula’s mother, an Estonian crime lord.

Loads of misunderstandings ensue as the exes try to one-up each other, bumbling criminals stumble their way into a situation they completely misjudge, and kidnappings go horribly wrong. I laughed my ass off at this movie. It’s quite funny and pretty nuts, but is grounded in some interesting, complex characters and isn’t afraid to take some dark turns. That, plus the intensely clever plot despite all the slapstick, makes The House of Branching Love stand out beyond other silly comedies.

Grouch who’d like it the most: Jared, who likes silly comedies.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Iceland

The Film Fest DC guide says an American remake is already in the works starring Mark Wahlberg and it’s easy to see why. However, I think the Hollywood version might push the envelope a bit further than liquor smuggling.

Kristofer is an ex-con eking out a living in Reykjavik. His brother-in-law gets in trouble with a smuggling ring so Kristofer agrees to return his to his old trade of sneaking liquor past Iceland’s tight border controls. He talks his way onto his old ship – where his old captain is understandably wary of his presence and makes for a good foil – on a trip to the Netherlands to load up on jugs of bootlegged booze to be stashed in various hiding places on the ship. Naturally things don’t go quite right.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam falls into the standard crime thriller genre, but with enough laughs and clever turns to make it original. I talk a lot about the worlds films inhabit, and this one of cargo ship life – both upstanding and underhanded – really interested me. And it comes together with a terrifically tidy ending. All in all very entertaining.

Grouch who’d like it the most: Adam would dig how straight-up entertaining it is.

The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime), France

A tale of French resistance in Nazi occupied Paris. Sounds like an historical drama made for film festivals like this. The protagonists of this one are Communists (and Communist Jews). Missak Manouchian is an Armenian exile who leads a cell of resistance fighters, laying bombs and assassinating officials. A host of other characters are supporters, fellow soldiers, family members, and lovers.

The plot twists and turns as loyalties change and personal ethics are tested. Honestly the film doesn’t advance the Nazi resistance genre that much. It keeps things a little too black and white for my tastes. It’s a little manipulative but it packs an emotional punch and it’s consistently entertaining.

I also found the history of the film fascinating. The resistance receives its orders from the Soviets and French Communists. The structure of the organization and how the orders get passed along as part of the broader Communist movement make for a different angle than we usually see in these types of films. While a sense of justice and a desire to save their Jewish brethren play a role in their motivations, these partisans are Socialist through and through. And life under occupation is a topic that always interests me.

I could easily see this coming out of Hollywood with an awards season push. And it’d probably do pretty well, though likely to the consternation of many who may find it too formulaic.

Grouch who’d like it the most: I think Brian would be like me and find the history of the film interesting.

Here’s Round 3 of my movie thoughts.  If you are reading this on Google Reader, click through to the actual post where  I’ve been embedding trailers in case anyone is interested.

123. Couples Retreat

My thought process: “Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are pretty funny, I like Jason Bateman, Jean Reno is awesome, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, and Kristin Davis are all attractive women who can do comedy, this movie should be great.”

Screenwriters Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau’s thought process: “Let’s get the studio to pay for us to fly out to a Hawaiian resort with some funny guys and attractive women. I’m sure a movie will figure itself out somehow.” Sadly, it didn’t. Jokes are few and far between. Saw this one with Adam, unfortunately we hadn’t had quite enough to drink beforehand. And we couldn’t figure out who this movie was geared toward. Pretty disappointing stuff.

122. The Maiden Heist

OK, so this direct to DVD film was written by the guy who penned You, Me, and Dupree and was directed by the guy who helmed Garfield.  So naturally, it stars Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy, Christopher Walken, and Marcia Gay Harden.  I think direct-to-DVD unfairly has a stigma attached to it, unfortunately this film isn’t helping matters much.  The premise is kinda kooky: each of the three male leads plays a security guard who has fallen in love with a piece of art (basically they are objectum-sexuals).  But the gallery has sold the exhibit to somewhere in Scandinavia, so the three decide to steal the artwork.  It is a bumbling criminals tale with few laughs, and I shudder to think what the film would have looked like with weaker leads.  Also, there’s a Breckin Meyer cameo, so that should pretty much tell you what you need to know.

121. Trick R’ Treat

A horror anthology consisting of four very loosely connected tales of Halloween.  I believe the film was very well-received by the horror community, who were (justifiably) frustrated by the distribution difficulties facing the movie.  I personally didn’t find any of the segments particularly scary, and it is easy enough to frighten me.  It boasts a relatively interesting cast, including Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb, Brian Cox and Tahmoh Penikett.  Some original stuff, but I dunno, the twists didn’t do much for me.  Of course, I only catch a couple of horror films a year.  The film was written and directed by the guy who co-wrote X2 and Superman Returns, which makes a lot of sense.

120. Surrogates

Saw this one during a triple feature at Bengies with Adam, Alice, and John.   I had an absolute blast at the drive-in (thanks for the idea, John!) which was due to the company, the movies (more on that later) and stuffing my face full of ridiculous food we had brought.  If you ever head out to Bengies, and you should, don’t listen to John.  There are plenty of places nearby to get dinner to bring in.  I also should have followed my cardinal rule of watching baseball: bring one more layer of clothing than you’ll think you’ll need.  Anyway, Surrogates feels like a Philip K. Dick knockoff.  The story was interesting enough, but it seemed to be forced into becoming a Bruce Willis summer blockbuster, resulting in a bloated mess that didn’t really need to be so broad.

119. Gentlemen Broncos

I love my name, but I gotta say, people I share it with have been letting me down in a big way.  Subway is dead to me and I know where I’m not going for jewelry.  There are a few baseball players named “Jared” or some variant, but they are all hurt or sucky this year.  And then’s Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite and this movie.  Gentleman Broncos definitely shares a sensibility with the former, but at least this one is tolerable.  The film’s three different plots are all vaguely interesting, but it is exceedingly clear that I just don’t get Hess’s cinematic world.  I haven’t seen Flight of the Conchords yet (I know, I’m a bad person), but I like Jemaine Clement (check out Eagle vs. Shark), which is topical because it was announced today he’s going to be a baddie in MIB III.  If there’s one reason to see this movie, it would be Sam Rockwell in a dual role where both characters are over the top outrageous.

118. Bright Star

I’ve already covered this Oscar nominee (Best Costume Design).  I was going to say it is a typical Oscar period piece, but that’s not really true.  Oscar period films tend, in my opinion, to be much more grand than this one.  Bright Star felt small and contained.  I think it was intentionally light and airy, but it doesn’t quite work.  The cast is pretty solid, though.  Between this, The International, Brideshead Revisited, and I’m Not There, Ben Whishaw has been on an exceptionally terrible streak.  Abbie Cornish likely finished around 7th in Oscar voting and is primed for a breakout.  And my love for Paul Schneider is pretty well-documented at this point.

117. Extract

Oh Mike Judge.  You are running out of excuses, I think.  Yes, your movies haven’t been marketed very well.  But in this case, that’s because there wasn’t really anything to market.  The story meanders all over the place and I think pretty much every supporting character (i.e. everybody other than Jason Bateman, showing up for the second time this post) could have been eliminated without losing much.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still gems here and there, and Judge does know how to create memorable characters.  But the plot is a mess.  A waste of a first-rate cast including Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig, and That Guy extraordinaires Clifton Collins, Jr. and Beth Grant.  The Gene Simmons cameo is pretty fantastic.  Oh, and as I pointed out to Brian, between this film and Couples Retreat, Jason Bateman has gotten to hook up with both female stars of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  The bum.

116. Serious Moonlight

Penned by the late Adrienne Shelley and directed by Cheryl Hines, the film shares a certain sensibility with Shelley’s Waitress that I don’t quite get.  I don’t want to say that you have to be a woman to appreciate this movie, but I think it helps.  I say that only because I can’t really imagine a film where the gender roles are reversed.  Here, Meg Ryan ties up (well, duct tapes up) Timothy Hutton, her husband of a decade, until he loves her again and agrees not to run off to Paris to propose to his girlfriend (Kristen Bell, in her second appearance of the post).  Justin Long also shows up, which probably few people think is as great as I do.  I respect a lot about this film.  Most of the action takes places in two rooms, and it rarely seems slow.  But the characters seem like such unpleasant people and their motivations seem poorly defined.  Also, like most things in my life, needed more Kristen Bell.

115. World’s Greatest Dad

Sometimes I think that a “dark comedy” is code for a film that isn’t really funny, but doesn’t contain much drama either.  I know John disagrees with me here, but I didn’t really get this one.  It is kinda impossible to describe the film without getting all spoilery (the trailer gives it an admirable try).  I will say that I respect Bobcat Goldthwait for putting together a story about a single dad and his kid where the kid is a snot-nosed punk with seemingly very little in the way of redeeming qualities.  So in a way I get the structure of the film, what it is trying to say.  I just don’t think the path it takes is very entertaining.

114. I Love You, Beth Cooper

This movie had a little bit of buzz surrounding it, since it was directed by Chris Columbus, but tanked something fierce.  And rightfully so.  The high schooler loser has a crush on the class hottie is a well-worn path, and this film doesn’t really have much to add to the genre.  If you’ve ever not liked a movie for being too predictable, you are gonna want to stay far, far away from this one.  Also, I think we’ve reached the point in dorky guy/attractive girl movies where we need at least one halfway decent reason that the girl should get with the guy, other than that she had an obnoxious boyfriend who always bosses her around.  Hayden Panettiere is far and away the best thing about the movie, and it is unfortunate she wasn’t given a better script with which to work.  Alan Ruck shows up, as does Cynthia Stevenson who has apparently carved out the incredibly specific career of playing mom in high school romantic comedies.  The film does contain one of my favorite lines of the year: “Am I everything you masterbated to?”

Coming up next time: a non-Oscar Holocaust movie, one of this year’s Oscar nominees in a non-Oscar role, and another Oscar-nominated film.

I’m back at it with the 2009  movies I ranked 133-124.  We are now segueing from the movies I despised to the ones I merely disliked.

133. It’s Complicated

If Adam refuses to come back and watch this year’s Oscar movies it is because I dragged him to go see this one, on the chance it snagged a nomination.  He’s still pretty angry about that one.  Between this and The Holiday, I’m kinda worried that Something’s Gotta Give was the exception and not the rule for Nancy Meyers.  Again, she has a solid cast and a good premise, but fails to come up with anything entertaining.  The film’s sense of humor apparently exists, though it can only be seen by middle aged women, John, and Brian.  Well, OK, save for the infamous pot smoking scene, which inexplicably bumped the film’s rating up to an R.

132. Bob Funk

I blogged about this one nearly a year ago.  It is difficult to create an engaging film featuring a main character without redeeming qualities.  I initially wrote “an unlikeable main character” there, but I got rid of it, because  I could see how someone would argue a character like House is unlikeable.  To reiterate my main point, the movie is a bit of a mess.  I don’t know if it was rushed into production or what, but the script could have used another draft or three.  But hey, probably the best movie about a futon salesman I can think of.  As I mentioned, worth watching if you are an Amy Ryan or Rachael Leigh Cook completist.

131. Rudo y Cursi

Not exactly a worthy addition to the soccer movie canon, sadly.  I love Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, but this movie had absolutely no idea what it wanted to be.  It careened from from cliche to cliche, never stopping to establish any sort of consistent tone.  That said, Garcia Bernal’s version of “I Want You To Want Me” and accompanying music video alone may make the movie worth seeing.

130. An American Affair

A Catholic schoolboy befriends an older neighbor, who happens to be having an affair with JFK.  No really, that’s the plot of this movie.  Ostensibly it is a coming of age film, but I have to imagine the JFK connection is one of the strangest plot devices used to get there. Especially because it really isn’t a necessary element.  Like, at all.  The high schooler is played by the kid from Thank You For Smoking, for whatever that is worth.   The neighbor is Gretchen Mol (you might remember seeing the film’s poster, where she’s wrapped in nothing an American flag.  There was one by my old apartment for a month).  She holds a special place in the hearts of two Grouches, excelling as the horrible wet blanket girlfriend in Rounders.  I think she could have carved out a better career playing those type of characters, even if I’m not sold on her leading this film.  The ending, by the way, is pretty terrible.

129. The Last Station

Not sure I could sum it up any better than John did recently.  I refuse to believe Oscar voters actually saw this film.  Maybe they watched the trailer.  But a hearty congratulations to the publicity crew and whoever decided to do an extremely limited release in 2009, you all worked magic in getting two nominations out of the film (which grossed less than $10 million worldwide).  One note I had is that every actor in the film spoke with a different accent.  Now, I personally don’t really care if a film sees its actors all put on accents.  But it was kinda off-putting.  Also off-putting?  Finding out that James McAvoy is married to one of his co-stars, but not the one with whom he hooks up in the film.  I cannot possibly fathom the negotiations that went on in order for him to pull that off.

128. My Life In Ruins

The Nia Vardalos movie that wasn’t I Hate Valentine’s Day.  When Rachel Dratch is your third lead, your comedy is going to have some problems.  The word “hackneyed” comes to mind.  I do think Vardalos has the comedic chops to be more than a one hit wonder, but goodness does she need to find some halfway decent material.  In this one, her love interest’s nickname is “Poupi”.  Pronounced “poopy”.  Yup.

127. The Messenger

The other reason Adam may never want to see a movie with me again.  I was fine with the Harrelson nomination because, hey, Woody Harrelson.  But the screenwriting nomination is inexcusable.  It is absolutely right that this story was told and fantastic that they got such great actors to tell it.  I think, though, that people are confusing a harrowing concept with a well-told story.  Because there really isn’t a story here.  Of course, major bonus points for the Gaius Charles sighting.

126. Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix went crazy because of this movie?  I don’t get it.  Also don’t get the early year love for this movie.  A rather humdrum tale of a depressed guy living with his parents in New York lusting after a wild and crazy unavailable girl while going out with a more down to earth one.  Someone told me they heard the Jewish aspect was played up in the film, but that’s really not the case at all, not much more than a passing reference and some accents.  The movie is generally dull and muted.  Those commercials that played nonstop last year showing clips of classic films with scenes from this one (and a few other recent ones) always cracked me up.

125. Cold Souls

The simple description is Being John Malkovich, but with Paul Giamatti.  It’d be wrong, but comes closer than any single sentence I could come up with.  The film’s concept (souls can extracted from a body) is plenty fascinating.  As are some of the resulting issues it deals with, like the effect on a person of transporting souls, or how having a soul affects the rest of life, or how having a different soul changes a person.  But the film gets lots in a tale of Russians and smuggling that is just distracting.  It never gets as weird as Being John Malkovich, but it never gets as interesting either.  Though it is always great to see Paul Giamatti play a lead role.  David Strathairn and Lauren Ambrose are criminally underused.

124. The Graduates

Wrote about this one a few months back.  Great movie name to drop if you are trying to impress people with your vast knowledge of Animal House-style comedies.  As I mentioned, major props for the Ocean City, MD location.  But it ultimately felt like an unfinished work.  There’s a lot of potential here, as some scenes were set up very nicely, and I could see how the film was trying to dig a little deeper than your typical sex comedy.  But as is, just doesn’t hold up very well.

Thanks for tuning in.  Up next: We continue to learn that attractive women does not a movie make, one Oscar nominee, and the second Morgan Freeman sighting.

Well I, for one, am finally glad 2010 is around the corner.  Writing “2009” on all my checks is just getting so boring.  Wait.  What?  It is already May?!  That would explain a lot.  Anyway, even though there’s still plenty more I’d like to see, I’m drawing the line on 2009 movies.  The other Grouches think it is too ambitious, but I’m hoping to recap all 143 movies I saw with 2009 release dates (in a timely manner).  Let’s get started with #143-#134:

143. Powder Blue

My DVD player shows how much time has elapsed in the movie I’m watching.  I try to avoid glancing at it, but a good rule of thumb is that if I do sneak a peek, the movie has become kinda boring.  When I first looked at the timer while watching Powder Blue, less than 15 minutes had elapsed.  Just an awful, terrible, nonsensical film that Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Patrick Swayze, one scene of Kris Kristofferson and Jessica Biel’s naked breasts could not even come close to saving.  Ladies and gentlemen, your worst film of 2009!

142. Fame

I saw this film while flying out to Vegas, so I couldn’t really escape it.  I haven’t seen the original, but I shudder to think it is anything like this film at all.  The movie had no plot that I could distinguish.  Just none at all.  I don’t think there was any conflict, I don’t think there was any resolution.  There was some singing and dancing.  And Kelsey Grammer pretending to be angry or something.  Let me put it this way.  This movie is entirely about high schoolers, and I don’t even think it is deserving of the effort to work in a Brian joke.

141. The Girl from Monaco

Saw this French film with my parents.  Every description I read referred to the film as a romantic comedy.  Which is pretty baffling, considering the movie isn’t romantic and sure as heck isn’t funny.  Like any French film, there’s random sex, ennui, and lofty discussions about life.  Also, a schlubby dude getting with a fantastically hot chick.  A surprising amount of French films I see contain a schlubby dude getting with a fantastically hot chick.  But otherwise there’s just no coherent story.  I’m hoping the upcoming Dinner for Schmucks helps proves this point, but I think that based on what I’ve seen, I prefer (good) American absurdity to the French kind.   Also, I think my parents love me a little less for subjecting them to this movie.

140. The International

Ever wonder what an espionage film minus action or any actual spying would look like?  Just watch The International!  Granted, the shootout in the art gallery had some really cool shots.  But the rest of the film was a muddled mess of random corporate spy movie buzz words, and absolutely no reason to care about any of it.  Perhaps fittingly, the bad guy in the movie is: the banking industry.

139. The Box

What a horrible disappointment!  As a Twilight Zone junkie, I was really looking forward to the film, which was based on a Richard Matheson short story.  But Richard Kelly is quite clearly out of his mind.  As I told my brother, this film is one time where studio interference would have been welcome.  You probably remember the basic premise: A couple get a box with a button.  If they press the button, they get a million dollars and someone they don’t know dies.  That takes up maybe twenty minutes of screen time, the rest is some incredibly bizarre supernatural surreal gobbledygook that is never adequately explained.  Probably because there is no rational explanation for the insanity that occurs.  Pretty much no decision about this movie (e.g. casting, setting, direction) was correct.  Well, I suppose Frank Langella is kinda creepy.  Oh, and Britta from Community shows up.  So there’s that.

138. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

So bad that the presence of may not even rank in the top ten things wrong with the film.  I haven’t really been too big on a lot of the superhero comic book films because I think they spend too much time working on references to the comics and not enough crafting an interesting story.  Clearly the case here as we see plenty of cool characters, but for no apparent purpose.  But all those characters means the supporting cast doesn’t get very much screen time.  Meaning they totally waste Taylor Kitsch, which is obviously a huge sin.  I also think Lynn Collins was miscast, which originally going to be a knock on her, but a movie we’ll get to a little later has revised my opinion somewhat.  Honestly, it is movies like this one, where bombast doesn’t translate into entertainment that make me appreciate Michael Bay that much more.

137. The Code

You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t heard of this direct to DVD film starring Antonio Banderas, Radha Mitchell, and this year’s Oscar nominee Morgan Freeman (I think it also may have been marketed as Thick as Thieves, if that helps).  Ready to play a little game?  Think of a crime thriller cliché.  Boom, so did The Code!  Twists you can spot before the movie even starts!  Russians as the bad guys!  An old veteran on one last job!  A young gun looking to make it big!  A female awkwardly shoehorned into the plot!  Things not being what they seem!  I stopped caring about the movie long before I didn’t care about the twist ending.

136. Crossing Over

The immigration pastiche no one needed.  About as subtle as a hammer.  Someone needs to tell writers, producers, and directors that showing a few (barely) interconnected stories doesn’t automatically make a movie interesting.  I blame Babel and Crash for making people think these kind of films about Important Issues are good.  Because so far, they aren’t.  Really, Crash: Race::Crossing Over:Immigration.   Does nothing to disprove my theory that Jim Sturgess only appears in crappy films.  Also, if you are somehow more in love with Alice Eve than I am (which is doubtful) there’s one scene in particular that might make this movie worth watching, though I’m too much of a gentleman to describe it.  I suppose Ray Liotta as a sleazy creep wasn’t the most difficult of casting decisions.

135. The Informant!

As you no doubt recall, I was much lower on this film than my fellow Grouches.  The humor didn’t really resonate with me at all.  Again, perhaps knowing the story ahead of time hurt, but I’d argue that speaks poorly of the film, because I know the general plot of plenty of movies before I see them.  To be honest, I think seeing the one in theaters hurt my impression.  Because sitting there wondering why people around you are uproariously laughing is a pretty miserable place to be.

134. Goodbye Solo

How indie does the old white guy befriends younger not white guy shtick.  I know I repeat it a lot, and I know it makes me the scourge of English teachers the world over, but I love plot.  For me, it is the most important element of a book or movie.  So sometimes the “art” gets lost on me.  Perhaps that’s what’s happening here, since the film was warmly regarded by most critics.  And it does a pretty good job portraying two characters and their changing relationship.  But I need a reason to care.  Doesn’t have to big or broad.  I need a film to justify why I’m watching it, and Goodbye Solo didn’t deliver.

Coming up next time: two Oscar nominees, soccer, and Richard Nixon

As Oscar movies all move onto DVD and the summer late night movie watching season (that’s a thing, right?) begins, it’s time to highlight movies that you should check out. We’ve told you what, out of the movies to which we’ve given little coverage, you should skip, but there are plenty that you should watch!

In the Loop (1 nomination)

A satire about the decision to go to war in Iraq. Now take your notions about what you would expect from that description and throw it out the window. This is a workplace farce where every character is self-serving, back-stabbing, and blindingly stupid. Members of Parliament, cabinet members, generals, and speech writers jostle for position and influence to help determine a decision that has already been made.

The writing is jam-packed full of jokes. It’s the type of film where you miss two punchlines by laughing at another. In the Loop is a semi-spin-off of British government farce sitcom The Thick of It, whose now dead American version was developed by the team behind Arrested Development. This is apropos since Loop‘s non-stop gag style reminded me of Arrested. It turns out the American version of the show just didn’t work because American television doesn’t allow the incredible profanity permitted in Britain. And, goodness, is that blue streak taken to new heights in Loop. If the slapstick jokes, the sly punchlines, the physical humor, the clever phrasings, or the bumbling characters don’t get you going, the inventive uses of swear words surely will.

An Education (3 nominations)

This is a film where everything just works. It’s a focused piece that avoids flash, dramatic scenes while hitting every note perfectly.

The plot is a simple coming of age story. Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirls in 1960s London on track for Oxford. A smooth and mysterious David (Peter Sarsgaard) charms his way into her life. He represents quite a change from her boring life and she wonders if a life with him is better than the books at Oxford.

We’re in well-worn territory here, but the writing and acting combine to produce a product where every element feels so right. The characters are complex and believable; in a word: real. I think the temptation is to make such a film lurid or overly dour as a precautionary tale, but instead I’d call it observative and wise. It’s very perceptive about the follies of youth without really condemning them. And Carey Mulligan puts it all over the top with a marvelous performance full of life and spirit. She does so much with a glance (look at the photo above!). What a talent. I also really liked Sarsgaard, who pulls off the creepiness without overdoing it.

This is the kind of film that I put on while getting ready for bed just to appreciate for a few minutes and before I knew it I’d stayed up til 2am watching the whole thing.

The Messenger (2 nominations)

This film is fairly reviled by my colleagues who never saw an understated film they didn’t hate. But I can kind of understand why in this one. It’s a story about two officers (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) charged with informing the next of kin after soldiers are killed overseas and the inner demons they struggle with. The fireworks come when they deliver the bad news. Between these episodes it does meander narratively a bit too much.

But, goodness, those next of kin scenes. They are so powerful. The soldiers banter in the car on the way there, steeling themselves for what they have to do without having to dwell on it. Then the knock on the door and the long wait to see if there’s an answer. Everyone handles the news differently, from screaming to anger to dazed acceptance. They’re an absolute emotional gut-punch. Check out the film for these scenes – though of course stay for the rest.

Up in the Air (6 nominations)

District 9 (4 nominations)

We covered these a little bit more, but they are certainly well worth your time. Up in the Air feels like a slice of modern life, a comment on our current times. It’s grounded in some terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. One of those films that is great at making you feel, even if some of the plot points feel not quite right.

District 9 thrives on its wonderfully inventive premise and a superb performance from frontman Sharlto Copley. Celebrate it for its originality and enjoy its pure entertainment value.

May 2010